Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I don't know

Hans Holbein the Younger: "The Ambassadors" (1533)

There they are, wealthy, powerful, knowing who's who and what's what. And there it is, the distorted skull cutting across the illusion of three-dimensionality.

A few weeks ago, the always-original thinker Scott Adams tried his hand at explaining the universe, and explaining away any notion of a divine creator. Yet as I wrote to him, maybe some questions may have a truth-value and yet not be scientific. For if (if) someone created the universe, which we now understand to be a continuum of space-time, then the categories of space and time may not apply to the creator. Even if the universe has always existed (and this is to apply the concept of time in a way that may not be legitimate, since it seems to see the universe as framed in time, rather than time being part of the structure), there is still the question, why is there something rather than nothing? And for those who explain the universe as the product of collisions between unobservable meta-universes, the same question can be asked again. As Wittgenstein said, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Think of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who abandoned his huge work of systematic theology after an experience that left him saying, "All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me."

Or of the SF writer Philip K Dick - and the revelation that led him (among other things) to save his infant son's life. See Robert Crumb's artstrip here.

I just don't know, and maybe those who think they do also don't know.


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Paddington said...

From the models generated (which fit the data), time isn't defined before the Big Bang.

James Higham said...

Yet as I wrote to him, maybe some questions may have a truth-value and yet not be scientific.


Sackerson said...

Isn't before a time-word? But one of the points I wish to suggest is that the whole debate is couched in the wrong terms somehow. It's like "dinosaurs existed, so Jesus was wrong." The explanations seem to come after the experience, or the experience is without explanation. Maybe the debate is not to be had; maybe it's futile for both sides. Even A J Ayer changed his stance to admit that provability wasn't the sole criterion of meaning. There's certainly ignorance and intolerance among some of those who say they believe (and use their belief like a battle-flag or cudgel); but again, some on the opposing side seem also to be limited somehow, a bit myopic.

Martian said...

"I just don't know, and maybe those who think they do also don't know."

In my experience, it is only the religious who claim to 'know'. Scientists attempt to explain by constructing models and extracting predictions that may be testable. No scientist of any repute claims to know anything nontrivial.

Paddington said...

I have to agree with Martian. Certain religious/philosophical viewpoints give certainty where none exists. That's why it is so powerful as a social force. Eventually, reality always wins out, though. That's what causes deflation of market bubbles, for instance.

Sackerson said...

Might be more common on one side than the other, but Prof D seems over-dogmatic to me. I can't envision him treating a student with appropriate liberal academic courtesy if the latter happened to be a member of a religious faith. Mind you, restraint in discussing differences of opinion doesn't seem that common on the internet, either. Present company excepted.

Paddington said...

You would have to have long-term exposure to US evangelists to understand. An anatomy prof reported that a student insisted that men had 1 fewer rib than women. He had the student count the ribs on a male and female skeleton, and came up with a different number.